Override likely for water bill veto

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- President Bush delivered his threatened veto of a $23 billion water bill yesterday, but Congress is virtually certain to reverse it in the first override of a Bush veto.

Bush and the Democratic-controlled Congress are moving closer to a showdown over spending that could draw more vetoes.


The House and Senate are expected to move swiftly next week to override Bush's veto of a bill loaded with water-related projects eagerly sought by members of both parties. They include shoring up California's levees and protecting the Gulf Coast from hurricanes.

In his veto message, Bush said that the bill "lacks fiscal discipline."


On Capitol Hill, Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, said, "I am 100 percent confident that we can override this veto."

The bipartisan response to the veto underscores the difficulty the president faces in his zeal to hold down federal spending, especially when it affects highly visible construction projects cherished by lawmakers.

"This will be the first veto this Congress has overridden, and it was all about getting parochial water projects back to their home districts," said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

The bill would authorize more than 900 projects, such as the restoration of the Florida Everglades and the replacement of seven Depression Era locks on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers that farm groups say is critical for shipping grain.

The bill is the fifth that Bush has vetoed. That is the fewest by any president since James A. Garfield, who was shot in 1881 after four months in office and died weeks later.

Bush has vetoed two bills that would have expanded federal support for embryonic stem cell research, a bill to pay for the Iraq war that included a timeline for withdrawing troops and another that would have expanded a children's health insurance program.

His other vetoes have been sustained. The Water Resources Development Act, however, cleared the House, 381-40, and the Senate, 81-12, far more than the two-thirds needed to vote the measure into law over the president's objections. It would be the first override of a veto since 1998, when Congress reversed President Bill Clinton's veto of $287 million worth of military construction projects.

"Nothing seems as dear to members of Congress as their water projects," said Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a budget watchdog group.


Bixby expects Bush, with support from Republicans in Congress, to wield more influence over the appropriations bills.

"Bush has a willing and sufficient minority with him to sustain his vetoes, so long as it isn't a water project," Bixby said.

Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, leader of a group of House conservatives, said he expects the veto of the water bill to be overridden.

"I plan to vote to sustain the veto, and I assume it will be a very small group of us," he said. "When the appropriations bills come ... that's where the real fight on fiscal responsibility will be, and my guess is we'll have enough Republicans to sustain" a veto.

Richard Simon writes for the Los Angeles Times.